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Wednesday 15 December 2010
Letters: Political parties
You report (13 December) that Labour is to woo Liberal Democrats. This is after Ed Miliband promised to eliminate us.
The reasons that this new charm offensive will not work any better than past ones are supplied in too-little-too-late comments by John Denham and Yvette Cooper. Denham says Labour will not be "tribal" and Cooper says the Labour government "should have said very clearly and very strongly" that US policies under Bush, such as the Iraq invasion and Guantanamo, were wrong.
They thus concede that tribalism and toleration of gross abuses of human rights have been entrenched features of the Labour Party. Throw in top-down centralism, authoritarian trampling on civil liberties and contempt for the little guy, and the answer as to why Liberals will never regard Labour as progressive is obvious.
In my 40-year political lifetime Labour have never been able to make up their minds whether to try and crush us or lovebomb us, partly because they have no clue about Liberalism and what makes us tick. Regarding us as their wayward little brothers and sisters who can be shooed back into the family fold has no future. We're different and we're independent, Ed.Get used to it.
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
For more years than we care to remember, we have voted Liberal or Lib Dem in the hopes that a party that steers a middle course between the extremes of the Labour left and the Tory right wing, might some day gain enough support to govern. This year they seemed to have something of a chance as a result of the coalition with the Tories. So, what has happened?
Within a ridiculously short time they have behaved in the same way as the other two major parties, in that before the election they were opposed to student fees and now they have chosen to vote in favour of the imposition of the fees along with the Tories.
Where does that leave us? We can no longer give our support to any of the three major parties. What is left? The Greens? The BNP? We seem to have no alternative except to abstain but what's the use of that? Can anyone out there help us with this dilemma?
Am I alone in thinking that Cameron's Coalition was always a plot to secure the end of that irritating bunch known as the Lib Dems? Both the Conservatives and Labour Party would dearly love to get rid of the Lib Dems and I'm sure that if Nick Clegg had gone in with the Labour Party an equally distasteful policy as the £9,000 student fee increase would have been concocted to force the Lib Dems to go back on their principles.
No doubt the forthcoming referendum on voting reform was always planned to take place after the student fee debate. The referendum will now be poorly supported, and is unlikely to be passed. Fewer people will be prepared to give real democracy a chance and the two main parties can look forward to another century of the status quo. Or as a Lib Dem supporter, am I being too cynical?
Eaton Socon, Cambridgeshire
Steve Richards ("I can't see a party this divided hold together for four years", 14 December) makes the common mistake of confusing Lib Dem party activists (the sort who attend conferences and may have more in common with Labour and the Greens) with party members. The general membership covers a far wider spread of views, but what unites us is a belief in Liberal values that is not represented in either of the other two authoritarian parties.
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire
Bennett fell for an old trick
Alan Bennett's unfortunate experience at the hands of confidence tricksters (report, 13 December) puts him in distinguished company. The technique of smearing someone with a substance and then offering to help them clear it off, as a means of relieving them of their wallet, has a long history and has been practised on at least one other great British playwright.
In August 1943 George Bernard Shaw, then aged 87, described a similar incident in a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas. He was robbed by a "confidence trick crook" who "squirted some strong stuff on my back and took me to an underground railway lavatory to clean me up". The letter now resides in the British Library.
I sympathise with Alan Bennett's encounter with the "mess on the jacket" scam and his loss of trust in strangers. We avoided the same scam in Milan in February this year but we were taken in and robbed the next day in a train, about to leave the station, because we tried help a distressed stranger who apparently couldn't find the right platform. One's natural instinct to be helpful or to trust someone who is helping you is cynically exploited.
However, why had Bennett withdrawn £1,500 in cash from the bank to pay his builder? It is difficult to imagine any advantages in office administration from cash payments. In my own experience, when tradesmen ask to be paid in cash, inducements are offered in the form of a price reduction. On one occasion the price reduction worked out at 17.5 per cent. I said I would prefer to pay by cheque.
Fight for our wildlife
Congratulations to Michael McCarthy for drawing attention in his article "The end of abundance" (26 November) to the ever-diminishing numbers of Britain's flora and fauna, as a result of human activity. Younger people today can have no appreciation of the profusion of the natural world which still existed only 50 years ago.
I can remember walking on the North Downs as a boy and seeing clouds of small blue butterflies fly up from the grass. Walking in the same areas on a summer's day some years ago I saw only a couple of these butterflies. When I was young it was commonplace to see considerable numbers of butterflies on the flowers of buddleia bushes. I have had a buddleia in my garden for the past 10 years and have never seen a single butterfly.
Ladybirds used to be very plentiful. I saw just one last year, the first I had seen for a very long time.
Despite some worthy and successful efforts to save and encourage particular species, the general impoverishment of our natural world can seem set to continue. The uprooting of hedgerows, the replacement of most flower-filled meadows with "improved" grassland, the use of insecticides and herbicides by farmers and gardeners alike, motor vehicles that crush millions of animals under their wheels and obliterate probably billions of insects on their windscreens, domestic cats, those serial killers of wildlife, the needs of the ever-expanding human population steadily encroaching on wildlife habitats – all combine to present a depressing picture of a seemingly unstoppable process.
Like Mike McCarthy, I mourn what has been lost, but I do not think that we should just resign ourselves to large parts of our country becoming virtually wildlife-free zones. The causes of the problem are many and various, and require many and varied solutions. Some solutions have been attempted, with a degree of success, but the scale of the success is dwarfed by the scale of the problem. If we are to stop the rot it is essential greatly to raise public awareness of the issue, to campaign more vigorously and to advocate more radical and far-reaching solutions.
We must not accept that the destruction of the natural world is inevitable and irreversible. As the American Indian Chief Seattle said in a speech to the President of the United States in 1854: "What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beast, soon happens to man."
Gateshead, Tyne & Wear
Checking up on everyone
I have every sympathy with Tom Clarke (letter, 14 December), whose employment has been delayed by Criminal Records Bureau checks. I had the misfortune of having to suffer the same process three times last year, once for the Lawn Tennis Association (as a tennis coach), for a local school (where I am a trustee) and then for a political party when standing as a candidate in the general election. If ever there was a process that needed a shake-up this must be it.
I have withdrawn my application as a volunteer in adult education because a CRB check was required. At 75 and with professional references, I refuse to acknowledge that I may be a criminal. So much for the Big Society.
Wigston Magna, Leicestershire
Australian good losers
I cannot let the comments of Peter Croft (letter, 14 December) go unchallenged. Saying "I have little love for the convicts in our Antipodean plantations" is highly offensive.
His last paragraph implies that Australians can't admit that the English side is a better cricket team. In fact a leading newspaper brandished in huge letters, on the first page of the sport section, the line, "Face it, they are just far too good". Most media outlets have carried the same sort of commentary.
And the man in the street? I know of no one who was praying for rain in the second Test. Everyone I spoke with was of the same sentiment: "Rain would be a travesty for England – they have kicked our butts and we deserve the thorough thumping we are receiving."
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Assange is no spy
Diplomats and journalists are all out to get what confidential information they can and sometimes they have to give some favour or other modest recompense in return. This does not make them spies. The burden is on those with secrets to take reasonable precautions to protect them. Espionage involves going to far greater lengths to steal well-protected secret information.
Julian Assange merely pushed open a door already ajar. How on earth can one call it security when a vast hoard of supposedly secure material can be got from one underling?
The US government is responsible for the egg covering its face. I just hope the UK and other countries have made some serious effort to keep the confidences on which all real diplomacy depends.
I wonder if at next year's Nobel ceremony, people will be applauding an empty chair, while Julian Assange languishes in jail somewhere.
Amid all the excitement, a calm 17th-century thought from Blaise Pascal: "I lay it down as a fact that if all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends in the world."
Barston, West Midlands
Dictators across the Third World must be breaking out the Dom Perignon– $100bn annually, promised at Cancun, to line their Swiss bank accounts and fund their sons' environmental companies. Given the colossal sums involved, how can anyone ensure that even part of it is used effectively to combat climate change and that corruption is minimised?
Surely your Court Correspondent, Talbot Church, The Man the Royals Trust, could, for your Christmas charity auction, conceal one behind an arras in the sitting room of the Royal of one's choice?
Perspectives onwhat universities are for
The case for taxation
The health of higher education will suffer from the market model which throws the paying student into the role of educational consumer. You can be sure that students in this role will start to exert their "rights" . I predict few module failures, fewer overall failures and a greater willingness of students to sue institutions which are not perceived to be delivering their best at all times.
The best policy would have been to allow universities to put up fees from 2012 to a maximum to all students of £5,000 for certain courses. The extra funding that universities need should have been paid for through general taxation.
Apparently it was unfair to expect workers who did not go to university to have to pay for the 40 per cent of youngsters who are expected to go in future. I suspect the opposite point of view would have been accepted by the electorate had they been asked. Higher education remains an aspiration for many even where individuals themselves do not attend university. They would be pleased that friends and family members could go.
Some people have cars, some don't; some have children, some don't, and so on. We all benefit to variable degrees from spending from general taxation. It was crazy to exempt higher education from this.
Elizabeth J Oakley
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
What about ideas?
In my degree in mathematics, there were certain key moments. It took three weeks of staring at a single page of a proof in Lie Algebra to realise it was obvious. Another such occasion was not degree-related at all – reading Roland Barthes' Mythologies, a book of semiotics and how we use language. Some 35 years later I find myself relating algebra to semiotics.
Education is the freedom to explore ideas, while training is the discipline of learning facts and procedures. An economy based on training will continue to repeat what it already knows, until it is overtaken by new economies which can do the same thing, but cheaper. With the rise of China and India, it is evident that we will need a new economy, and that can only be based on education.
The debate on student fees has confused education and training. Businesses need graduates from both vocational and non-specific tertiary training courses, and we should stop pretending that anyone other than business should pay for them. But the bigger society also needs people who are educated, who can take previously unconnected ideas and make something new from them. Such education takes time and is not guaranteed to be productive, so it is we, the bigger society, that should pay for it.
And why combine algebra with semiotics? It's the key to next-generation information systems.
Cameron declares class war
To evoke the traditional notion that universities are communities of scholars and that one of their most sacred trusts is maintaining civilised values might appear at the very least eccentric in the brutally materialist country England has become.
The Government's plans are unimaginably divisive. Cameron is fighting a class war, and its about time that those of us who are not part of that patrician, bun-throwing elite to which he and his Parliamentary colleagues belong, awoke to this fact, and joined battle. Indeed, fighting now may save future bloodshed when the vast, uneducated majority realises quite to what extent it is being deprived of the material, cultural and intellectual fruits of the earth, and moves, en masse, to gets its own share of them.
Woolloomooloo, New South Wales, Australia
Welcome to the market
In 1975 I was interviewed for a place to read English at Exeter University. I said that I wanted to study English because I enjoyed it. The interviewer gave me very short shrift: "I like bird-watching but I don't expect the state to pay me to do it!"
University education became a market when the consumer began to pay directly for the product. And what happens in a market? The supplier provides what the consumer wants. And whether that is bird-watching or navel gazing, privately financed higher education will go the same way as privately financed TV.
Abruptly raising the cost of university tuition is a crude way of allowing the markets to sort out the complex philosophical problem of what education should be about.
Uckfield, East Sussex
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